In her loss to Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the Democratic Senate primary on Tuesday night, Rep. Donna F. Edwards accused the state party of sidelining women and people of color, actions that are likely to result in a mostly white, all-male congressional delegation.
“What I want to know from my Democratic Party is, when will the voices of people of color, when will the voices of women, when will the voices of labor, when will the voices of black women, when will our voices be effective, legitimate equal leaders in a big-tent party?” she said.
“My friends, this is the 21st-century question for the Democratic Party, and it is time for the Democratic Party to call the question,” Edwards said.
Patrick Murray, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said Wednesday that the state party, which is still rebounding from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s win in 2014, wants to hear from Edwards about what it can do to be more inclusive.
“As we come together to focus on the general election, we want to have a dialogue on issues that matter to middle-class Marylanders — including diversity and representation,” Murray said in a statement. “We work every day to engage women and communities of color, but we need to do more. We hope to work with the congresswoman to develop strategies to ensure our party reflects the diversity of our state’s electorate.”
Edwards could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Her defiant, fiery concession speech did not come as a surprise to many of those who have followed her political career and conflicts with party leaders.
Still, some say that Edwards, who ran a campaign that highlighted her race and gender, used her speech to tap into a longtime frustration among many women and African Americans with the state party.
“There is a frustration that power is not shared in the Democratic Party,” said Aisha Braveboy, a former state delegate, who is African American. “When individuals who don’t have [the party leadership’s] blessing aspire to be leaders, they are often not only not supported, they are ostracized and demeaned.”
Braveboy said that because Edwards took on Van Hollen, state party leaders ostracized her and tried to doom her campaign.
Jessica O’Connell, the executive director of Emily’s List, the powerful political action committee that got its start 30 years ago by backing Democratic congresswoman Barbara A. Mikulski for U.S. Senate, said Edwards was outspent in the race.
“We knew this race was going to be an uphill battle,” O’Connell said, adding that the group remains committed to supporting female leaders in Maryland.
But other women who have run for statewide office said the party is not to blame for Edwards’s failed bid to fill the seat vacated by Mikulski, who is retiring.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former lieutenant governor who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2002, said she thinks that Edwards needs to do some “soul searching” on her own work in Congress, arguing that “if she was a better candidate we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
Townsend said Mikulski won the Senate seat in 1986 because of her work in Baltimore City. Mikulski “wasn’t elected just because she’s a woman,” she said.
Maryland has elected eight women — five Democrats and three Republicans — to Congress since 1941, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Former Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin, a strong supporter of Edwards who is also African American, said she has become “discouraged and disillusioned” by some progressive white members of the party who fail to understand why race and gender matter and who “only see from their own lenses.”
Ervin said she has not decided whether she will support Van Hollen or sit out the race, something she said she hasn’t done in more than 30 years as a voter.
It wouldn’t be the first time that top African American officials have taken a strong position after the primary loss of a black candidate in a statewide race.
Ten years ago, disappointed because there were no black candidates at the top of the state Democratic ticket, five Prince George’s County Council members and former county executive Wayne K. Curry backed Republican Michael S. Steele, a black former lieutenant governor, in his run for U.S. Senate. Kweisi Mfume, a former NAACP president and congressman, lost to then-Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the state party’s choice, in the Democratic primary.